This month was a big one because we decided to change our approach to travel a little bit. We decided to start following our excitement and planning our trip around the places we really wanted to see rather than going to the places we heard were fun but didn’t light us up. This strategy has worked really well for us this month and led us to some of our favorite places of the entire trip. We can’t wait to see where following our hearts in this way leads us for the next six months.
- Countries visited: Ecuador
- Cities visited: Isinlivi, Banos Quito,
- National Parks: Cotopaxi National Park, Cuyabeno National Park, Galapagos National Park
- Hostels/Lodges/Hotels stayed in: 8
Getting Sick at Llullu Llama
Our 2018 started out somewhat rough because we both came down with terrible throat infections that knocked us out with high fevers, coughs, and overall feeling lousy for over a week. We were so lucky that right when we started to get sick a new volunteer showed up to help out, because otherwise the manager would have had to man the entire place on his own which would not have been easy. We stared feeling better a few days before we were about to leave, so we were able to take a few last walks through the country side, have a few last glasses of wine in front of the fire, and generally relish the place we had called home for almost 6 weeks.
Getting to The Secret Garden
While volunteering at Llullu Llama we had multiple people ask us if we had been to The Secret Garden, a hostel in Cotopaxi National Park that apparently was very similar, so we made that our first stop on our adventure through Ecuador. We booked a room called a hobbit hole and it was the most adorable room we’ve ever stayed in with an absolutely stunning view of Cotopaxi (when it wasn’t covered in clouds).
The Secret Garden is a very remote hostel that took half a day to get to from Llullu Llama in the remote village of Isinlivi. We woke up at 4am to take the 5am bus to Latacunga then followed the directions given to us by the hostel to “take a bus toward Quito and tell them to let you off Machachi. Do not take a bus to Machachi because they wont drop you off in the right place. From there you’ll see a stop light, we’ll pick up up just past the stop light at the horse statue”. We were like umm ok. How hard can it be? We ended up getting off way too early and walking for about 30 minutes until we got to a completely different horse statue! Who knew there would be so many in one place? Eventually about 10 minutes more of walking we got to the correct horse statue. We were picked up awhile later and then drove for another hour and a half before finally getting to the Secret Garden, just in time for lunch and a long nap.
Horseback Riding in Cotopaxi
Since the secret garden is so remote, they arrange different activities that guests can participate in (at an extra cost). The options included a variety of different hikes, bike riding, and horseback riding through Cotopaxi National Park. The manager specifically said “if the horseback riding appeals to you I highly recommend it” and I couldn’t get that phrase out of my mind. Neither Jeff nor I are horse people at all, and horseback riding isn’t at all in our wheelhouse, but I figured it would be a once in a lifetime activity to go riding through fields surrounded by volcanoes.
It took us awhile to get comfortable on the horses, mine preferred to walk directly behind another horse and then bite them occasionally and Jeff’s horse favored running at a slow trot but after we finally got used to their individual personalities the whole morning went smoothly. We wandered up and down hills, beside deep canyons, through small streams, and across open prairies. The wind was sharp and left our hands completely numb by the end, but the scenery was absolutely breathtaking in its remoteness. Occasionally we’d pass by herds of cows or wild horses, and it felt like our group were the only people in the whole park for much of the time. Afterward we knew we had chosen the best outing to experience the park in all of its stunning beauty.
Accidentally Ending Up in Banos
We shouldn’t have ever gone to Banos. Its known as being the place to get a fill of adventure sports, mountain biking, zip-lining, waterfall rappelling, etc. which all sounded fun but went there because our guide book said it was a good place to book a tour into the jungle. When we got there, we learned that in fact the best place to head into the jungle was a 12 hour bus ride north of Banos in Coca. But it wasn’t in our plan to go north, we had just come from there. We wanted to do a quick jungle tour then continue heading south to Cuenca and Vilcabamba, two towns that had been highly recommended.
So we had a tough decision to make, completely abandon our plans and head north or skip the jungle and stick with the plan. In an effort to prioritize our bucket list destinations we opted for the former, and turned right around.
We did get a chance on our last morning to visit the town’s namesake, a big outdoor bathhouse with three different pools that are all fed by natural springs. We let the healing properties of the natural water sink into our bones and prepare us for the 12 hour bus ride that was ahead.
First, One Glimpse into Ecuador’s Wildlife
Spending time in the jungle of Cuyabeno National Park was everything we could have ever wanted- endless and varied plantlife, tons of animal sightings including monkeys and snakes, a feeling of true remoteness. We spent four nights days cruising around on the rivers of Cuyabeno in a motorboat. Our incredible tour guide, David, was friendly and so knowledgeable. He knew the answer to pretty much any question we asked about the animals or plants as well as the history of the park and the people living in it. We have a full post on the whole experience coming soon.
Then, Seeing a Whole Different Side
We almost didn’t go to the Galapagos. We had ruled it out as too expensive and too hard to get to. But this was another place we decided life was too short not to go, so we decided to just make it happen.
We landed on the island of Santa Cruz and spent our first afternoon walking through the main streets of Puerto Ayora, making the short but hot trek to Las Grietas, a deep system of canyons that you can swim in, and finally hanging out at Los Alemanes beach as the sun set. We found a restaurant that had actual vegetables on their menu for dinner (a quality sorely lacking in tourist heavy areas) and treated ourselves to an early night because the next morning we were on a ferry to Isabela at 7:30am.
When we got to Isabela we found out the hotel we thought we had booked didn’t have our reservation, so we wandered around a bit and found a hotel with individual cabins for rooms that turned out to be even better than the place we had originally booked. The owner was very helpful and gave us a full description of the top places we had to visit while on the island, all in Spanish! We were so proud of ourselves that we understood most of what he said.
While on Isabela we took a snorkeling tour, visited a turtle breeding ground, and rode our bikes to an abandoned wall built by prisoners in the late 1940s. The second half of our Galapagos trip was in February so we’ll post about that, including our fabulous cruise, in our next month’s recap. We also have a long Galapagos post about all of our favorite things to do and see coming soon.
Where to next? Home and South Korea
In the coming month we’re headed home! Not for long though, just doing a short stopover in LA on our way through to South Korea for the Winter Olympics. We could not be more excited about either of these activities.
The first month of 2018, has really shaped up to be better than we could have ever expected. If this is any indication of our entire year, we are going to have a fabulous time full of unexpected surprises.
Thanks for following along.